| WASHINGTON, March 27
WASHINGTON, March 27 China appears to have
largely completed major construction of military infrastructure
on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and
can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there
at any time, a U.S. think tank said on Monday.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of
Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,
said the work on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the
Spratly Islands included naval, air, radar and defensive
The think tank cited satellite images taken this month,
which its director, Greg Poling, said showed new radar antennas
on Fiery Cross and Subi.
"So look for deployments in the near future," he said.
China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the
South China Sea, although last week Premier Li Keqiang said
defense equipment had been placed on islands in the disputed
waterway to maintain "freedom of navigation."
AMTI said China's three air bases in the Spratlys and
another on Woody Island in the Paracel chain further north would
allow its military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire
South China Sea, a key global trade route that Beijing claims
Several neighboring states have competing claims in the sea,
which is widely seen as a potential regional flashpoint.
The think tank said advanced surveillance and early-warning
radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as
well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere gave it
similar radar coverage.
It said China had installed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles at
Woody Island more than a year ago and had deployed anti-ship
cruise missiles there on at least one occasion.
It had also constructed hardened shelters with retractable
roofs for mobile missile launchers at Fiery Cross, Subi and
Mischief and enough hangars at Fiery Cross for 24 combat
aircraft and three larger planes, including bombers.
U.S. officials told Reuters last month that China had
finished building almost two dozen structures on Subi, Mischief
and Fiery Cross that appeared designed to house long-range
In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, new U.S.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson angered China by saying it
should be denied access to islands it had built up in the South
He subsequently softened his language, saying that in the
event of an unspecified "contingency," the United States and its
allies "must be capable of limiting China's access to and use
of" those islands to pose a threat.
In recent years, the United States has conducted a series of
what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations in the South
China Sea, raising tensions with Beijing.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Matt Spetalnick and